The leak in the gulf

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If an oil well erupts in the ocean and no­body talks about it, does any­one hear any­thing? This is the dispir­it­ing thought that crossed my mind as I waited, day af­ter day, fol­low­ing the Oct. 22 front-page ex­posé of the cat­a­strophic Tay­lor En­ergy oil spill off the coast of Louisiana, “For gulf oil spill, no end in sight.”

Read­ing about the mas­sive leak — seem­ingly as much as 700 bar­rels per day, ev­ery day, for 14 years — was jaw-drop­pingly de­press­ing. Worse, the leak was hushed up by gov­ern­men­tal of­fi­cials who should have in­formed us — and by the com­pany it­self.

A much smaller oil spill off the coast of Santa Bar­bara, Calif., in 1969 caused such an out­cry that it is now con­sid­ered one of the fac­tors that led to Earth Day and the launch­ing of the en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment.

The rev­e­la­tions were out­stand­ingly re­ported, but ques­tions about re­spon­si­bil­ity and cleanup re­main.

We hear a lot about “fake news.” What about “fake re­sponse” to real news? Peter Harnik, Ar­ling­ton

The Oct. 22 front-page ar­ti­cle “For gulf oil spill, no end in sight” re­lied on anal­y­sis used by the In­te­rior Depart­ment as part of lit­i­ga­tion that had not been used to guide the re­sponse. I know be­cause I am the en­vi­ron­men­tal unit leader on this re­sponse. Now pub­li­cized, this in­for­ma­tion is mis­lead­ing the pub­lic and may well be used to ra­tio­nal­ize ill-ad­vised ac­tions.

If the gov­ern­ment po­si­tion is that “mil­lions of bar­rels” have been leak­ing, why does it refuse to share data that sup­ports this po­si­tion — which would be cru­cial to the re­sponse? A bet­ter ques­tion yet is “Where’s the oil?”

Fol­low­ing Coast Guard pro­to­cols, the ob­served vol­ume is con­sis­tently less than 100 gal­lons. The es­ti­mates of 12,600 to 25,200 gal­lons per day “spew­ing” are based on fun­da­men­tally flawed analy­ses and are con­trary to the pro­duc­tion his­tory of the plat­form. Any im­pli­ca­tion that the in­ci­dent was “kept se­cret” is con­trary to the record. Tay­lor En­ergy re­ported that the plat­form was miss­ing the day af­ter the hur­ri­cane, and con­tin­ues to work co­op­er­a­tively on this re­sponse. Be­fore my re­tire­ment from fed­eral ser­vice, I worked with a team of dozens of sub­ject-mat­ter ex­perts. Our sci­en­tific con­sen­suses for re­sponse ac­tions were based on the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple that no ac­tions should be un­der­taken that would likely do more harm than good. Now, though, In­te­rior’s analy­ses have opened Pan­dora’s box in the form of pub­lic out­cry de­mand­ing ac­tion, a rea­son­able re­sponse given the er­ro­neous in­for­ma­tion. Wade Bryant, Ba­ton Rouge The writer is a se­nior en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist with CK As­so­ci­ates, an en­vi­ron­men­tal con­sul­tancy paid by Tay­lor En­ergy Com­pany LLC.

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